Why it’s worth paying an extra dollar

If you’ve ever paid $4 for a handful of carrots at a farmers’ market, and then seen an ad for a fast food meal for $3 on your way home, you may have questioned the economics of eating well. According to a new study, however, the cost disparity between a good and not-so-good diet isn’t nearly as great – only about A$1.65 per person per day.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, researchers at Brown and Harvard universities reached that conclusion after reviewing 27 cost-of-eating studies from 10 countries. The researchers compared costs several ways, including cost per serving, cost per day, and cost per 8375 kilojoules.

Within food groups, the highest cost difference per serving was A$0.32 for meats/protein. There were smaller but still significant differences between healthful and less healthful versions of grains, dairy, snacks/sweets and fats/oils.

When the researchers compared food patterns, they found that following the most healthful dietary patterns (such as the Mediterranean diet, which emphasises lots of fresh produce and whole grains, and minimal animal products) cost about A$1.65 more per day per person than following the least healthful dietary pattern. They estimate that eating a healthful diet would cost about A$600 more per person per year.

This increase could be a burden for poorer people, the researchers acknowledge. But they note that the price difference is trivial compared to the health care costs due to diet-related chronic diseases. And for people for whom the additional cost isn’t significant, the benefits for general health and running performance would seem worth the small extra expense.

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